The Development of Chinese Education in Malaysia is essential reading for anyone hoping to study the development of the Malaysian Chinese education system in greater detail. With the publication of this book, readers will have a better grasp of the development of Chinese education in Malaysia as well as the many problems and challenges confronting this system of Chinese mother tongue education. Chinese education began in Malaya in the nineteenth century, brought from China following the immigration of Chinese to Malaya. The transformation from private Chinese schools that catered to clan interests to modern Chinese schools that catered to mass education in the late nineteenth century marked an important watershed moment.
This was not the result of the adaptation to the local context but a response to the failure of China to defend its sovereignty from foreign aggression and education was viewed as a vehicle of modernisation and self-strengthening efforts. Thus, the early development of Chinese education was highly political. The Chinese in Malaya were then a transient community with strong attachments to their homeland and it was inevitable that they were influenced by political developments in China.
The British laissez-faire policy further spurred the development of Chinese education in Malaya, but the involvement of Chinese school teachers and students in subversive political activism forced the British to impose control and supervision beginning in 1920. Although many Chinese schools were closed down and teachers were repatriated to China, this did not halt the overall development of Chinese schools. The attempt by the British to use grants-in-aid as a means of control and supervision did not bring about the desired results. It was only in the 1940s that the British began to vet the Chinese school textbooks to ensure that their developments were in line with the Malayan context. By then, most Chinese had become permanent settlers in Malaya and accepted the Malayanisation of Chinese schools.
The development of Chinese primary schools has been impressive since the 1970s, after the conversion of English-medium schools to Malay-medium schools. However, the under allocation of development funds, the acute shortage of trained teachers, the overcrowding of urban schools and the declining enrolments of rural and inner-city schools are all longstanding problems that were not resolved or given due attention by the government. Instead, the national schools remained the prime concern of the government.
The establishment of a complete system of Chinese education has been the grand vision of the Chinese educationists since the second half of the 1960s. Early attempts by the Chinese educationists to establish the Merdeka University were deemed contentious by the government as far as language policy was concerned. However, a change in language policy beginning in the mid-1990s allowed for the establishment of a private college. Despite some internal problems, the New Era College continued to grow. However, the lack of physical space remains a critical problem confronting its development. Meanwhile, efforts to upgrade the College to a university college were hampered by stringent conditions imposed by the MQA. It was only recently that the College was upgraded. While the College subscribed to a trilingual language policy, it was the intention to make Chinese the main medium of instruction that was in line with the grand vision of the Chinese educationists.
All in all, the legacy of Chinese education in Malaysia stemmed from the immigration of Chinese to Malaya and the laissez-faire policy of the British, spurred by the strong cultural resilience of the Chinese in general and the Chinese educationists in particular. The many problems and challenges faced by Chinese education in Malaysia have not halted its impressive development. In many ways, the Chinese in Malaysia are a significant minority in what some have described as a plural society, and their cultural resilience is reflected in their strong quest for mother-tongue education.